Thursday 14 July 2022

Performative Caring.

Political Sledging: On Sky News Australia, conservative columnist and commentator, Rita Panahi, coined the not-so-kind "Performative Caring" alternative to Jacinda Ardern's trade-mark promotion of "Kindness". There will be plenty of Kiwis on this side of the Tasman more than happy to repeat the Australian Right's all-too-accurate political sledge.

SKY NEWS AUSTRALIA has reformulated Jacinda Ardern’s championing of “kindness” as “performative caring”. While the network has long displayed a strong right-wing bias, its derogatory re-casting of the New Zealand Prime Minister’s “brand” may nevertheless strike a chord with the growing number of her detractors on this side of the Tasman.

Sky News’ owners have a very real interest in undermining Ardern’s support in New Zealand. While she remains the Shaky Isles’ prime minister she will continue to remind Australian voters of what they do not have – likeable politicians. It’s a comparison Australian conservatives could do without. Especially when it encourages Aussie voters to focus on the extraordinary unloveliness of the Liberal and National parties’ leadership.

Hence Sky News’ willingness to do all it can to aid their ideological soulmates in the New Zealand Parliament. The sooner Ardern’s Gospel of Kindness is laid to rest, the sooner Australians can be reconciled to the unchangeable nature of the monstrous regiment of boofheads that has dominated their politics for decades.

It will be interesting to see if National and Act make use of the rhetorical gift Sky News’ Rita Panahi has given them. Of Iranian extraction, Panahi won her spurs as a right-wing political commentator by heaping criticism on the Islamic radicalism her family had fled. Now firmly ensconced in Rupert Murdoch’s stable of conservative columnists, Panahi’s ability to deliver political invective is not to be sneezed at. That said, however, echoing the Aussie sledges of a Kiwi PM may not be the most sensible way to win the hearts and minds of New Zealand voters.

Even if National and Act decline Sky News’ hatchet, there can be little doubt that the “performative caring” slur will spread rapidly: mostly by social media, but also through plain, old-fashioned word-of-mouth. That it will damage Ardern’s “brand” is indisputable. How could it not, when the Ardern Government’s successful demonstrations of practical kindness are so very thin on the ground?

Perhaps aware that it is not generally regarded as either fair or sensible for journalists to slag-off the prime-minister of their country’s oldest ally, Sky News’ morning line-up were careful to back their “performative caring” jibe with corroborative evidence. Panahi, in particular, pointed to Labour’s dismal failure to keep its promises to the New Zealand electorate. Not surprisingly, she homed-in on the Ardern Government’s failure to build the tens-of-thousands of affordable houses it had promised to supply.

New Zealanders could supply many more examples.

Where was the kindness – the empathy – in Health Minister Andrew Little’s blank refusal to acknowledge the obvious crisis gripping New Zealand’s health service? Where was even the most basic manifestation of political common sense? How is any government served by its ministers refusing to acknowledge truths plainly visible to the entire country?

Every New Zealander acquainted with reality knows that what the doctors and nurses are telling the news media is true. If they haven’t witnessed personally the tragic overloading of the country’s primary and emergency health services, then their family and friends have filled them in.

The fraught experience of operating well below optimum staffing levels is relived every day in their own workplaces. Between them, the Omicron variant of Covid-19 and the winter flu are infecting New Zealanders by the tens-of-thousands. Owners and managers are at their wits’ end, trying to keep their farms, factories, shops and offices functioning. They can all-too-easily imagine the stress of doctors and nurses struggling to do the same – only with the lives of their patients potentially at risk if they make the wrong decision.

Little’s refusal to accept the term “crisis” is, of course, entirely rational from a cynically political point of view. Were he to recognise it, he would then be morally obliged to do something about it. And how could he possibly do that, when the entire health system is in the midst of a complex restructuring exercise which he, himself, initiated?

To remove the enormous pressure on medical personnel would require immediate and effective action from the Department of Immigration, and the full co-operation of the gate-keeping professional bodies who have for far too long lorded it over the nation’s health system. With a clear-sighted grasp of the crisis, coupled with an iron will to overcome it, both of these objectives could be achieved. Now, if we could only lay our hands on a clear-sighted health minister with an iron will!

In 2020, Kiwis were bowled over by a government that actually delivered on its promise to fight the global Covid-19 pandemic with kindness. Astonished, they watched it slap down a business community demanding profits before people. Deeply impressed and appreciative, New Zealanders rewarded “Jacinda” and her Labour Government with an extraordinary election victory. And why not? Their government had not only cared, it had performed.

That was the secret sauce; the cipher key; the magic formula: telling people what you were hoping to do – and then asking them to assist you in making it happen. So long as the people remain at the heart of a Government’s performance, it cannot fail. If objectives aren’t being met, then go out and ask citizens for their help, listen to their advice, and back their assistance with dollars. For a few months this is exactly what Ardern did. It worked. And the country loved her for it.

The problem, of course, is that listening to the people can get a government into all kinds of trouble. It is also extremely difficult to sustain. It requires a very special political talent to recognise the voting public as the country’s most important interest group, especially when everybody else in the circle of power is telling you that it’s the business community, Treasury, the Reserve Bank, academic experts, the news media.

Turned out Ardern simply didn’t have enough of that special talent. Turned out 2020 was a fluke. Six months of genuine kindness was the most “Jacinda” could summon forth. And when she could no longer make it, she faked it.

Sadly, “performative caring” sums up Jacinda Ardern and her Labour Government all too well.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 14 July 2022.


greywarbler said...

When it comes to 'performative caring' there are more ways of seeing how we perform one is to look how ww favour Australia.
We boost their banks profits by billions, and have minimal legal hoops.
We are paying to keep under control their destructive, mad terrorist who caused worldwide consternation by killing off Islamists some of whom might have been Iranian.
We pay them to sell us our food from which they make a large profit.
We have offered to relieve them of a blot on their landscape which the refugees they have imprisoned are.
We are attempting to tame the various criminals they choose to send back to us.
Kiwis who live and work in Oz pay good lumps of tax to them yet receive small assistance when in difficulties.
We put up with their careless treatment of our Prime Minister, dishonoured by making her step in disease-controlling solution on arriving at their airport as if she was an ordinary visitor. (When there was a bovine infectious problem I think.)
Another dishonoured time for our Prime Minister when she had to remain in airport isolation besieged by angry Ansett staff when that airline collapsed mainly because it was full of financial holes and thorns when we unwisely bought it.

Those are some of the Australian governments' faults that come to my mind. I have still a book from the 70's about Bazza McKenzie's adventures by Barrie Humphries. The amusing Oz peccadillos would make you chunder or even let loose a technicolour yawn.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

When all is said and done, Labour gave in to pressure and abandoned the most vulnerable of us – of which my wife is one. But if you have a look at the MSN news, the comments there are often along the lines of "I don't care about your health, only that of me and my family, and that means I don't have to bother wearing a mask." I only dip my toe in there rarely, because I come out feeling like I need a wash, but overwhelmingly that seems to be the attitude. Some people fight back, but tend to be excoriated. One guy mentioned that his wife was in a vulnerable group, a problem with which I have some sympathy, but his comment received a dozen or so little angry faces.
God I really long for the time when these absolute – no other word for it – fuckwits had to print out the little pamphlets on the Gestetner and spend good money mailing them out to a dozen or so of their idiot friends. Nowadays of course they can get thousands of the gullible on social media. I don't bother commenting – all I do is report them when they provide Covid misinformation or make racist comments. I mean it's bad enough here but 10 times as bad over there. Apparently masks don't work and Covid is no worse than a flu – maybe I'll try sending them over to that website where they have obituaries for people who refuse to get vaccinated and died wishing they had, or maintaining to the end that it's just a cold. :)

Jason Barrier said...

I don't particularly like Aussies rubbing their salt into our wounds (although to be fair we do the same to US/Aus politicians) but...
Regrettably, we are saddled with a government that is absolutely world-class in banning, restricting, and 'enquiring' into things - but absolute dunces when it comes to building things or fixing problems. As Oliver Hartwich points out, in his excellent Op-ed recently "Faced with a serious problem, the government sets an ambitious long-term goal. It then launches massive public relations campaigns. Following that, it blows up the bureaucracy but fails on deliverables." Oliver's full essay can be found here for those interested.

greywarbler said...

GS I have the Monty Python answer to those who dismiss a disaster as next to nothing - just a scratch!

Are good people wasting their time trying to regain the past reasonably good country when so many were diseased before Covid which has exacerbated their malaise?

I think that a group needs to form which is committed to the real decent society (not necessarily the one that religious Jim Bolger had in mind). It has to be concerned about all matters and each willing to compromise somewhat on their ideas after long discussion of the pros and cons. Then only proceed if the outcomes will be good for all, or if that can't be achieved at first, when unsatisfactory affects amended. It obviously would be difficult. But the vision must be clear and no spoilers or time-wasters allowed and people would need to have experience demonstrating judgment, and be upfront about their failings as well as successes and at the end prepared to have small reward just a living and security and to live amongst others of similar approach and standard. All need to be involved in learning, being informed and prepared to argue their point at decision-making and explain all its possible outcomes.

I'm thinking along lines of John Christopher's The Tripods books, don't know if the tv series
conveys the situation I am considering. Try TradeMe under John Christopher books.

greywarbler said...

The government might pay some of NZ Initiative's running costs or perhaps not. Perhaps the people or corpse that fund it could pay more tax and take their foot off the pause pedal so we could go straight to our own choice of experts as a country influenced by its own citizens. I think Oliver Hartwich came to us from Germany as his last port of call didn't he? We have had overseas experts or influences for decades now and we are on our way down without hope for better and stalling and patronising tactics from our 'hexperts'.


Worth repeating ...

Quote: "Even if National and Act decline Sky News’ hatchet, there can be little doubt that the “performative caring” slur will spread rapidly: ... that it will damage Ardern’s “brand” is indisputable. How could it not, when the Ardern Government’s successful demonstrations of practical kindness 😄 ... indisputable. How could it not, when the Ardern Government’s successful demonstrations of practical kindness are so very thin on the ground?

Oh ironic sarcasm, here is thy sting! "Very thin" ... Indeed!